And they were bringing children to him that he might touch them, and the disciples rebuked them. But when Jesus saw it, he was indignant and said to them, “Let the children come to me; do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God. Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.” And he took them in his arms and blessed them, laying his hands on them.
This incident, where children are brought to Jesus, is a favorite for Sunday School teachers. We know from Luke’s gospel that these children are infants (Luke 18:13). But to the disciples, Jesus has more important things to do than holding babies. After all, he is on a journey to Jerusalem to usher in the Kingdom of God. No doubt the disciples are shocked when their intervention arouses Jesus’ anger. Jesus is indignant and insists “let the children come to me, do not hinder them” (14). He takes the children into his arms and blesses them (16).
The incident teaches us of God’s love for children. Jesus is indeed in the midst of the greatest mission of all – to save people from sin and usher them into his Kingdom. But Jesus wants to make it plain – that Kingdom is for all – including children – “for to such belongs the kingdom of God” (14). Thus, any Christian who lacks a love for children and a desire for them to come to Christ, shares the attitude of the disciples, and would arouse his anger. We too must be convinced that the gospel is for all – including children. It’s worth reflecting what difference that should make to our priorities in parenting and our involvement in children’s ministry.
Yet, Jesus reveals a greater significance to this incident. In verse 15, Jesus emphatically declares “whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it”. Jesus does not mean we must be innocent like a child. Anyone who has had children knows they are not. Rather, Jesus is insisting that to enter God’s kingdom we must come to him in total dependence and trust. Children are dependent on their parents for everything. They cannot eat, drink, bath, or do anything without the help of their parents. Likewise, unless we come to Jesus utterly dependent, we cannot enter God’s Kingdom.
Mark intends for us to compare this incident to what precedes and follows. In the preceding story, we meet the self-righteous, hard-hearted Pharisees who test Jesus. In the following story, we encounter a rich young man, seeking to earn eternal life through his works. Both groups are unwilling to become like little children and both groups miss out on the Kingdom. Rather it is the disciples, who have left everything to follow Jesus (28), who receive the promise of eternal life (30-31). They have become like little children.
Here is the key lesson: Entering God’s kingdom is not about being good or religious. It’s not something we can earn through our church attendance, or our giving, or our ministry. The only way to enter God’s kingdom is to come to Jesus like a child, helpless and dependent and say “I know I am sinner. I know I have nothing to offer. But I trust in your death. And I leave everything to follow you. Please help me”. Then and only then will you receive the blessing of eternal life.
- Ponder: Are you still trusting in yourself for salvation, or have you recognised your need to depend totally on Jesus?
- Promise: Jesus promises that all who come to him in humble trust have a place in his kingdom.
- Prayer: Pray that we would share Jesus’ heart to see children come to him, and that we may learn from children how we ought to come to Christ ourselves.
Originally from Australia, Tim came to know Christ as a child, before maturing in his faith during his university years. Tim now lives in Malaysia and serves as the Ministry Director of Equip Gospel Ministries and as a Pastor at St Mary’s Anglican Cathedral, KL. Tim is married to Siew Mun and they have a daughter named Charissa (3.5 years old) and a son Christopher (1.5 year old). Tim loves Malaysian food, the hot tropical weather, and is learning to speak BM and Mandarin! But most of all he loves Jesus, and is passionate about seeing people from all nations and all stages of life come to know Christ as their Lord and Saviour and joyfully live for his glory.